A baby boomer writes the novel she always planned

Okay, baby boomers, if you ever wanted to write a book, raise your hands! Yep, there are a lot of you out there. BoomerCafé’s co-founders David Henderson and Greg Dobbs both are published authors ourselves, so we especially appreciate what it takes to get it done. Which is why we also appreciate this story from Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt of Hamilton Square, New Jersey, who finally wrote the novel she always planned to write. It is, let’s just say, a process.

If you are a voracious reader, you might have nurtured the idea that one day — when the children were grown, or you were retired, or things slowed down at work, or things slowed down in life — you would write your novel, the book you’ve always wanted to read yourself but haven’t found.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

A surprisingly common dream … but one that remains only a dream and not a real goal for most of us who have it.

In a way, writing your own novel is punishment for all those times you scoffed at the inadequate plotting capabilities of an author, or complained that someone’s character was painted cardboard.

I had been writing mysteries myself for several years in the ’90s, and I did my share of going through the agent/publisher submission process, but receiving only “Nice writing, but not for us at this time” rejections that beginning writers might have reason to expect but will always dread. At the turn of the 21st Century, the idea of another novel was vouchsafed to me, as in, “I am the only one who can write this.”

The problem? I had to learn to write well, because the novel required higher writing skills — orders of magnitude higher — than I knew I had. In a way though, there is a real advantage to writing for baby boomers: you will use every neuron you possess, and build its muscles. You can’t be fuzzy or lazy or incomplete if you are the book’s author; readers will be depending on you to guide them from the title and opening image to a satisfying conclusion, ideally feeling like they’re on a rollercoaster along the way.

Now if you are a natural-born writer of genius, skip this. Or, unluckily, if you are one of those people who can never learn to write, I am sorry. But if you are anywhere in the vast middle, and are fueled by a depth of knowledge about novels from a lifetime’s reading, the rest is learnable. It takes a lot of time, time you could use doing anything else that brings you pleasure. I chose to teach myself, from writing books and blogs, and using software for writing tasks (characterization, plotting, structure, editing) or the production of text and images (word processors, graphics programs).

But the biggest task is to learn to trust yourself.

It was an exhilarating fifteen years. I took time out to write a play, which improves the art of dialogue. And some short stories.

I learned self-editing, formatting, proof-reading, cover design, HTML computer code. I got advice, and some mentors (self-publishers are surprisingly generous).

In October 2015, when I was 66, I uploaded the ebook files for PRIDE’S CHILDREN: PURGATORY to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). I purchased the first copy, and everything was exactly as I had designed it every step along the way.

Six weeks later I repeated the process to put the book in actual print, this time uploading files to CreateSpace, the Amazon POD (print on demand) subsidiary. A few days later, I had the moment every budding author fantasizes about having: I held the paper copy of my debut novel in my hands, a newborn object of beauty and weight.

The main task never deviated: tell the story.

Because, you see, I knew the end.

Enjoy Other Stories on BoomerCafé ...

14 Comments

    1. Hi, Marsh.

      It’s been an interesting process all along. The actual self-publishing part took about half a year because I decided to milk the experience, and ended up doing every step myself.

      Total control is heady – and scary.

      Meeting the online reading and writing community was the best part – indies are sharing people, and answer questions willingly for those who do their due diligence first and ask intelligent ones. My cover mentor, J.M. Ney-Grimm, writer of beautiful mythological and SF stories, kept me from doubting my new abilities: when she couldn’t find one more thing to critique, I published.

      Self-promotion, which you know is coming, is the big hurdle – I’m still learning.

      Thanks for the encouragement – I’m hoping the next one takes a little less time and is up to the same standards.

      Alicia

  1. Congrats! I’ve been there too. (Lies and Love in Alaska.) Writing the novel was one half of the journey and the other half was navigating the self-publishing maze: the endless proofreading (but I know I went over that page 49 times!), the ISBN number (who’s this guy Isbn they keep talking about?), the need to self-promote (cringe-worthy for anyone who’s shy of publicity). And the thrill of seeing the sales increase. Can’t say it was fun but can say the next one is easier… so far. Keep going!

  2. Congratulations! I’ll have to get your book. As they say, you sell one book at a time, so you just got another one sold. I’m a travel writer and holding my first book in my hands was an indescribable joy (Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries). Like you, writing is so cathartic and if I don’t get to do it daily, I get very, very grouchy. Am working on book #2 about hiking on Corsica. Good luck with your ongoing promotion.

    1. Yes, yes, yes! Writing is one of the things I do for myself every day. It’s a joy AND a necessity. Ask my husband: no writing for a couple of days = gumpy wife.

      Travel writing always sounds like such fun – happy writing on Book #2.

      I think, when you get the second one published, that’s when you know you’re really in this for life – because one never publishes TWO books as a fluke.

  3. Congratulations on publishing your first book. It’s a lot of work but worth it. There’s so much to learn along the way, and I’m sure you’ve made a lot of friends among other authors. My writing group members are good friends who will happily spend hours discussing plot, characterization, etc.
    I’ll look for your book. Keep on writing!

    1. Thank you, Sandra. It is SO worth it.

      The work is more satisfying than most people realize. I happily spend hours every day figuring out the exact way to illustrate a plot point, or get a dialogue exchange just right. Nobody is making me do it.

      And the satisfaction of learning how to handle a new craft problem – how do you make sure, for example, that the characters in a group scene don’t disappear because they don’t have much to say while the principals are talking? – is the rush of knowing you’ve got that skill for your toolbox.

      Sounds like your writing group is a good one. Keep writing!

  4. ‘But the biggest task is to learn to trust yourself.’
    Yes. I’ve always known I could put sentences together in a clear, grammatical fashion, but fiction? Fiction like Dostoyevsky? Frank Herbert? Ursula K. LeGuin? Hah.
    It wasn’t until I gave myself permission to write as well as /I/ could that my own apprenticeship began. Seventeen years later, I’m still learning. Thank goodness there’s no use-by-date for writers.

    1. ‘Thank goodness there’s no use-by-date for writers.’ So true! As long as we like, we keep doing what we do.

      We Boomers are great at giving ourselves permission to do what we want to do. It always turns out this way: the passions are things people have been working on for years – because all those bits accumulate. You can’t learn to write overnight.

  5. Congratulations, Alicia, this is a great article. And I’ve read your book and can vouch that you are a hugely talented writer. And, as you say, it does take time and determination to learn the trade, and you’ve amply shown your determination and grit! It is, as the founders of Boomer Café pointed out, a “process”, and a long arduous one. Well done!

    1. High praise, coming from a writer like you. Thank you.

      You don’t make it as a writer without keeping at it. Grit IS required.

      The hardest part for most people will be to put the goal above other goals. It does take the investment of time to join the tiny fraction of humans who write a book, and plan on more.

      I think it’s worth the time and effort.

    1. Thank you. I do have some beautiful reviews, don’t I? I am so grateful to the people who took the time to write, which only a small proportion of readers do.

      I’ve done my share of approaching reviewers and book bloggers. Some have responded graciously.

      I’ve also benefitted enormously from the online indie community’s output: writers who blog provide information about everything from writing to formatting to marketing out of a sense of ‘we’re all in this together.’ I started reading the blogs in 2012, as I was pretty sure the novel would be, no matter how well written, just odd enough in subject matter that it would be a hard sell to traditional agents and publishers. I’ve been commenting and meeting people on those blogs for a while, too.

      Many of the good connections started from these online conversations. After I know a person for a while from their comments, if it seems we are interested in the same standards for writing, and the same kinds of books, I offer an electronic ARCs (Advance Reader Copies). Others got the book themselves (often from Kindle Unlimited); a few even bought paper copies.

      Several have written later to apologize (!) for not connecting with the book – which blows my mind. They are still good friends, but may not be in the book’s tribe.

      Others came from my Wattpad or Goodreads connection with readers and writers.

      Reciprocity is not allowed by Amazon and Goodreads terms of service, so I can’t offer to read someone else’s work and review it. It would be a quagmire, anyway: I count as colleagues people who write all over the genre spectrum, as well as more literary fiction as I do.

      For me, the personal effort leads to where I ask someone to try the book, no obligation. I don’t go past that point – from there on it’s up to the reader, as it should always be.

      Anyone who will consider the possibility of a review may request a copy. Beginning authors need readers and reviewers more than sales. I ask only that they look at the book’s page on Amazon, read the material and the Look Inside feature to see if they want to try. My email address is abehrhardt [AT] gmail.

      Readers who find the book on their own, and review, are an unexpected treasure – hope I get more!

      The short answer is: a lot of hard work.

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